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Virginia Struggles Without Beekman, Holds Off JMU to Win 55-50

After losing Reece Beekman early with an injury, the Cavaliers just barely held on to avoid suffering another upset loss to the Dukes
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It wasn't exactly the revenge game the Cavaliers were hoping for, but they got the job done. 

UVA struggled to get going offensively after losing Reece Beekman to an injury just four minutes into the game, but behind two strong performances from Kihei Clark and Jayden Gardner and a couple of big plays from freshman Ryan Dunn in the closing moments, No. 3 Virginia (8-0, 1-0 ACC) managed to hang on for a 55-50 victory over James Madison (7-3, 0-0 Sun Belt) on Tuesday night at John Paul Jones Arena. 

After suffering their first-ever loss to the Dukes last season in Harrisonburg, the Wahoos probably had this game circled on the calendar as an opportunity to avenge that defeat. Those plans took a serious blow when Reece Beekman aggravated a hamstring injury, knocking him out of the game after playing just four minutes. Without their best defender and offensive playmaker, all bets were off for the Cavaliers as they tried to fend off a JMU team that brought in the nation's No. 1 offense. 

Virginia's defense was up to the task, holding JMU's explosive offense in check. However, despite having a significant size disadvantage, the Dukes won the rebounding battle 24-14 in the first half and 41-33 for the game. JMU collected nine offensive boards in the first half, leading to seven second-chance points. That, combined with two three-pointers each from Noah Freidel and Vado Morse, allowed the Dukes to hang around despite shooting just 27.6% from the floor in the first half. 

Armaan Franklin hit a pair of three-pointers and led all scorers with eight points in the first half. The rest of the Cavaliers went just 1/8 from three in the first half as UVA was cold from beyond the arc for the second game in a row, making just five of 21 three-point attempts for the game. Virginia's defense forced eight JMU turnovers in the first half and scored nine points off of those takeaways.

A ferocious dunk by Ryan Dunn in transition sparked a 7-0 run that helped the Cavaliers build a lead as large as 11 points and Virginia led 27-20 at halftime. 

JMU didn't attempt a single free throw in the first half. The Dukes were determined to change that in the second half and they were largely successful, going to the free throw line 18 times and making 13 of those attempts. Graduate guard Takal Molson led the charge for JMU in the second half, scoring 18 of his game-high 20 points in the second half, with six of those points coming from the free throw line. 

With Beekman out of the game, it was up to Kihei Clark to run the Virginia offense. Clark played 39 minutes and continued to play some of the best basketball of his career, scoring at least 16 points for the third-consecutive game. Clark matched a season-high with 18 points and dished out seven assists as well. He knocked down a pair of three-pointers early in the second half to keep Virginia in front despite the scoring surge from Takal Molson. 

Virginia got cold for a long stretch in the second half and JMU took advantage. Freidel was fouled shooting a three and made all three free throws and then Molson knocked down a triple as the Dukes went on a quick 6-0 run to tie the game at 42-42 with less than eight minutes to play. 

This time it was Jayden Gardner who stepped up, scoring five points in a row to put UVA back in front. Gardner finished with 14 points on 5/7 shooting and recorded eight rebounds. He scored in double figures for the fifth-consecutive game after failing to reach that mark in Virginia's first three games of the season. 

A driving layup from Kihei Clark put Virginia up 51-43 with just over four minutes to play, but the Dukes refused to go away, as Vado Morse knocked down a three-pointer. Neither team made a basket for the next couple of minutes and Virginia squandered several chances to seal the game at the free throw line, missing nine foul shots in the second half. UVA shot a horrendous 12/24 from the free throw line. That kept the door open for JMU and Takal Molson drove past Gardner for a layup to make it 52-48 with 1:51 remaining. 

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While it was the seniors Kihei Clark and Jayden Gardner who made the big plays to keep Virginia in front in the second half, it was true freshman Ryan Dunn who rose to the occasion at the end of the game. 

Playing big crunch-time minutes for the Cavaliers for the second game in a row, Dunn had the challenge of trying to keep Molson away from the basket. JMU cleared the floor for Molson, who was able to put a couple of moves on Dunn to free himself for a layup, drawing the Dukes to within two at 52-50 with exactly 60 seconds remaining. 

Dunn immediately made up for the defensive lapse, receiving a pass in the corner and driving strong along the baseline and finishing through contact at the rim for a clutch layup, putting Virginia back up by four with 36 seconds remaining. 

Dunn wasn't done being the hero, though. On JMU's next possession, Dunn stuck to Molson like glue and didn't give him any room to elevate for a jumper. Stuck in mid-air, Molson attempted to throw a last-ditch backdoor pass that didn't find its intended target, flying out of bounds for a turnover and giving the ball back to Virginia with just ten seconds left. 

Dunn finished with just four points, but they were arguably the most memorable four points of the game. He also recorded five rebounds and three blocks and didn't look like a freshman at all as he made the two game-winning plays that kept Virginia undefeated on the season. 

It wasn't a good offensive game by any stretch for the Cavaliers and their recent drop-off in three-point shooting is cause for concern. But to limit a JMU offense that came in averaging better than 93 points per game to just 50 points even without their best defender? Well, Tony Bennett and company will gladly accept that outcome and will eagerly move into a much-needed ten-day break for final exams. 

Virginia won't play again until Saturday, December 17th, when the Cavaliers welcome No. 1 Houston to John Paul Jones Arena for a big-time showdown. 

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